Jul 13 2016

At the Gulf Tower in July

Published by under Peregrines

Dori at the Gulf Tower, 13 July 2016, 6:38am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower, Pittsburgh)

Dori at the Gulf Tower, 13 July 2016, 6:38am (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower, Pittsburgh)

Dori watches the city wake up, Downtown Pittsburgh, Wednesday, July 13.

Dori refused to use this nest in March but she likes it in July.  Her nest site on Third Avenue faces south-southwest.  This nest at the Gulf Tower faces north-northeast.

 

(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

14 responses so far

Jul 12 2016

Gone But Not Forgotten

Cicada damage on an oak tree (photo by Kate St. John)

Cicada damage on an oak tree (photo by Kate St. John)

After weeks of roaring in late May and June, the 17-year periodical cicadas (Magicicadas, Brood V) are gone but not forgotten.

During the mating frenzy the females used their ovipositors to slit the bark near the ends of twigs and deposit up to 600 eggs per slit. Weeks later the adults are dead but they’ve left their mark on the trees.  The slits killed the leafy branch tips.

Everywhere you go in cicada country the trees are green inside and brown at the tips.  (This is called “flagging.”)

Cicada damage on an oak tree (photo by Kate St. John)

Cicada damage on an oak tree (photo by Kate St. John)

The trees look as if someone has sprayed defoliant on this year’s new growth.  Fortunately that’s not the case!

Cicada damage on an oak tree (photo by Kate St. John)

Cicada damage on an oak tree (photo by Kate St. John)

The trees will be fine.  They have plenty of time to recover before Brood V reappears in 2033.

If you lived through the cicada invasion this summer, you won’t soon forget their roar.

If you missed them, your next big chance near Pittsburgh will be Brood VIII in 2019.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

Jul 11 2016

A Bird With A Bad Pick-up Line

This 3-note song mystified me in my own backyard.  I can usually identify birds by ear but this one stumped me for at least six weeks.

Finally, I recorded it outside my window and sent it to my friend Dr. Tony Bledsoe.  Tony suggested a tufted titmouse. (Turn up your speakers to hear the song in the video above. Ignore the picture, the bird’s not in it.)

A few days later I saw the bird.  No wonder we didn’t recognize the song!  He’s a gray catbird that sounds nothing like his cohorts.  (Turn your speakers back down for the audio below.)

 

Most birds are silent in early July but the odd-sounding gray catbird is still singing in my neighborhood and I can guess why.

None of the lady catbirds like his song so he’s still calling for a mate.

He’s a bird with a bad pick-up line.

 

(video by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Jul 10 2016

Up Close with a Song Sparrow

Published by under Songbirds

Up close with a song sparrow held by bander Becca Ralston, Neighborhood Nestwatch, Donna Foyle's, 9 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of a song sparrow held by bander Becca Ralston at Neighborhood Nestwatch, Donna Foyle’s home, 9 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Did you know that song sparrows (Melospiza melodia) are the most abundant breeding bird in Pennsylvania?  All they need are tall grasses, shrubs or trees to thrive in marshes, suburbs, farmland, or along roadsides.

At the National Aviary’s Neighborhood Nestwatch events, song sparrows are a target species and the one most often banded.  This may have been true yesterday at Nestwatch at Donna Foyle’s, but the birds avoided the mist nets!  Bander Becca Ralston had to change the net locations several times before this song sparrow came in.

Song sparrows are boring “Little Brown Jobs” (LBJs) from afar but they’re fascinating up close.  Notice the intricate pattern and subtle shades of brown on this bird’s head.  You can see the feather-eyelashes that circle his eye.  His eyes are black from a distance, but up close you can see that they’re really brown.

Cool!

Bander Becca Ralston holds a male song sparrow at Neighborhood Nestwatch (photo by Kate St. John)

Bander Becca Ralston holds a male song sparrow at Neighborhood Nestwatch (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

Jul 09 2016

Montana Flowers And A Tree

Published by under Plants,Travel

Beargrass in bloom, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Beargrass in bloom, Glacier National Park, 29 June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

In my final Montana installment, here are some plants seen at Glacier National Park, June 27-30, 2016.

Beargrass grows up to five feet tall with grass-like leaves and a knob of white flowers on top.  As you can see in this poorly lit photo, the beargrass was hard to ignore on the Josephine Lake trail.

Hikers next to beargrass, showing the height of the flower, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Hikers next to beargrass showing the height of the flower, Glacier National Park, 29 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

At Logan Pass we saw Glacier Lilies that resemble our own Trout Lily.

Glacier lily at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Glacier lily at Logan Pass, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

And at woodland edges, Pink Wintergreen (Thank you, Dianne Machesney, for identifying this for me) …

Pink Wintergreen, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Pink Wintergreen, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

… plus Sticky Geraniums …

Sticky Geranium, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Sticky Geranium, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

… and Sego Lilies, the state flower of Utah.

Sego lily, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Sego lily, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

The meadows were full of wildflowers.

Paintbrush …

Paintbrush species, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Paintbrush species, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Larkspur …

Larkspur, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Larkspur, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Blanket flower (I think. Please correct me if I’m wrong!)

Blanket Flower Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Blanket Flower, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

and the remnants of Camas flowers that had bloomed in mid-June.

Camas flower, McGee Meadow, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Camas flower, McGee Meadow, Glacier National Park, June 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

And finally, I marveled at the huge Western Redcedars on the wet, western side of Glacier National Park. They are so much bigger than our cedars back home.

Western Redcedar, Glacier National Park, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Western Redcedar, Glacier National Park, 30 June 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 08 2016

Peregrine Update, Western PA

Published by under Peregrines

The Downtown peregrine pair, Dori and Louie, bow at sunset, 2 July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Downtown peregrine pair, Dori and Louie, bow during a glowing red sunset, 2 July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Gulf Tower)

Peregrine activity begins to wane in July but there’s still news from western Pennsylvania’s nine nest sites.  Some have active families, others do not.

1. Downtown Pittsburgh: 

In early June Dori and Louie fledged four youngsters from the Third Avenue nest but observers have seen only two Downtown since mid-June. At the end of June (while I was in Montana) I heard from Art McMorris that a seriously injured fledgling with infected wounds was found on Grant Street and had to be euthanized.

Happily, Lori Maggio saw two healthy youngsters yesterday, July 7, perched on Point Park University’s Lawrence Hall. Their parents seem to be avoiding them.

Dori at the Gulf Tower, 6 July 2016 (photo by Ann Hohn)

Dori at the Gulf Tower, 6 July 2016 (photo by Ann Hohn)

Dori and Louie have been visiting the Gulf Tower nest on the other side of town since June 24.  In the top photo, they bowed during a gorgeous red sunset.  On July 6, Ann Hohn at Make-A-Wish confirmed their identities. Yes, they are Dori (in Ann’s photo above) and Louie.

 

2. Cathedral of Learning, University of Pittsburgh:

Terzo and Hope bow at the nest, 6 July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Terzo and Hope bow at the nest, 6 July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

On June 21 the female resident Hope briefly lost the Cathedral of Learning to rival Magnum but regained it within a couple of days (read more here).  Since then Hope visits the nest frequently to bow with Terzo.  Their fledgling C1 is doing well.  Peter Bell saw the whole family yesterday (July 7) when he heard C1 shouting as she chased one of her parents.  I’m sure C1 is learning to hunt but would prefer to mooch from Terzo.

 

3. Westinghouse Bridge:

Female peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 23 June 2016 (photo by John English)

Female peregrine at Westinghouse Bridge, 23 June 2016 (photo by John English)

John English and I visited the Westinghouse Bridge on June 23 and found the resident female, an unbanded one-year-old. She “owns” the place but has not nested this year.

 

4. McKees Rocks Bridge:

McKees Rocks Bridge with ALCOSAN in foreground (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

McKees Rocks Bridge with ALCOSAN in foreground (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The McKees Rocks Bridge is hard to monitor but Joe Fedor got lucky.  Joe works at the nearby ALCOSAN plant where on June 7 he saw a peregrine fly and land unsteadily on a pier of the McKees Rocks Bridge.  On June 9 he saw two peregrines, one of which appeared to be “flying unsteadily as it landed on the ladder on our tall smoke stack.  I have never seen a fledgling fly, so I am wondering if it was a fledgling.”  Art McMorris says, “Yes, it sounds like a fledgling.”   That’s good news for McKees Rocks.

 

5. Neville Island I-79 Bridge:

Magnum at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 2 Jul 2016 (photo by Chad Steele)

Magnum flying at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 2 Jul 2016 (photo by Chad Steele)

This year the nest at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge was so hard to see that site monitors could not confirm if the pair was still Magnum and Beau.  Two young fledged in early June but one died and the other disappeared within two days.   All was quiet until Magnum appeared at the Cathedral of Learning on June 21 and ousted Hope for a couple of days … and then she disappeared.  One of her fans, Chad Steele of Canton, Ohio, came to Pittsburgh to check on her.  He found her at the bridge on July 2.

Those who know Magnum recognize her purposeful hunched walk along the beams.

Magnum's characteristic walk-along-the-beam at the I-79 Neville Island Bridge, 2 Jul 2016 (photo by Chad Steele)

Magnum’s characteristic walk-along-the-beam at the I-79 Neville Island Bridge, 2 Jul 2016 (photo by Chad Steele)

Chad’s photos of her bands confirmed her identity.  Magnum is back home for now.

 

6. Monaca-E.Rochester Bridge, Beaver County:

Monaca East Rochester Bridge, 2012(photo by PGC WCO Steve Leiendecker)

Monaca East Rochester Bridge, 2012 (photo by PGC WCO Steve Leiendecker)

Several people looked for peregrines in the Beaver-Monaca area this year including long time peregrine watcher Scott Gregg.  Scott says the peregrines chose the Monaca East Rochester Bridge this spring but their nest — if they had one — was unsuccessful.

 

7. Tarentum Bridge:

Peregrine eating prey at Tarentum Bridge, 29 June 2016 (photo by Rob Protz)

Peregrine eating prey at Tarentum Bridge, 29 June 2016 (photo by Rob Protz)

Rob Protz continues to monitor the Tarentum Bridge where he’s seen a pair of peregrines but no evidence of nesting.  He photographed one having a meal on the bridge on June 28, above.  Rob also saw one of the peregrines dragging its talons in the river as if to catch a fish.  Unusual behavior, but not unheard of.

 

8. The Graff Bridge, Route 422 Kittanning, Armstrong County:

Two juvenile peregrines at Graff Bridge, Rt 422, Kittanning, 3 July 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Two juvenile peregrines at Graff Bridge, Rt 422, Kittanning, 3 July 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Great news! In their second year at this new nest site, the peregrines have successfully fledged two youngsters.  Tony Bruno visited the Graff Bridge several times last weekend to capture these beautiful photos. The best place to watch is from the bike trail on the Manorville side.

Juvenile peregrine at Graff Bridge, Rt 422, Kittanning, 3 July 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

Juvenile peregrine at Graff Bridge, Rt 422, Kittanning, 3 July 2016 (photo by Anthony Bruno)

 

9. Erie, PA Waterfront:  Mary Birdsong reports that the peregrine pair is still hanging out at the DonJon building but they have not nested. Alas. Better luck next year.

 

(See the captions for photo credits. Webcam photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Gulf Tower and Univ of Pittsburgh. McKees Rocks Bridge photo from Wikimedia Commons. Remaining photos by Ann Hohn, John English, Rob Protz, Chad Steele and Anthony Bruno.)

 

14 responses so far

Jul 07 2016

Best Birds in Montana

Published by under Beyond Bounds,Travel

Mountain bluebird (photo by Elaine R. Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)

Mountain bluebird (photo by Elaine R. Wilson via Wikimedia Commons)

When my friend Chuck Tague led an outing he’d ask us at the end, “What was your Best Bird?”  Now that I’m back from Montana I’ve made a list. (The photos are from Wikimedia Commons.)

Best of the Best: Mountain bluebird.  While standing next to a short spruce at Logan Pass, I saw a Life Bird(*) fly in and perch just above me.  This bluest Bird of Happiness completes the trio of bluebird species in North America: eastern, western and mountain.

Two of my Best Birds were named for explorers, Lewis and Clark.

I’d seen a Lewis’s woodpecker fly by the Allegheny Front Hawk Watch on October 20, 2002 (very unusual!) but in Missoula I was hungry to see more.  My friend Keith Kuhn asked a resident if we could walk across her property to the shore of the Bitterroot River where they’d been reported the day before.  She was very accommodating when he said “Lewis’s woodpecker.” The birds come to her suet feeder.    It was a thrill to see three pink-bellied woodpeckers fly-catching over the river.

Lewis's Woodpecker from Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

Lewis’s Woodpecker from Crossley ID Guide to Eastern Birds (illustration from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Clark’s nutcracker resembles a woodpecker but he’s actually a Corvid who stores and eats pine nuts.  We saw a pair of them fly over Logan Pass, calling and chasing each other.

Clark's nutcracker (photo by Simon Wray, Oregon Department of FIsh and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons)

Clark’s nutcracker (photo by Simon Wray, Oregon Department of FIsh and Wildlife via Wikimedia Commons)

 

I was afraid I wouldn’t see an American dipper but I shouldn’t have worried. Because they were nesting we saw adult dippers gathering food and a fledgling waiting for its next meal at St. Mary’s Falls.  Very good looks! (Click here to see one swim.)

American dipper (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

American dipper (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

In only eight days I saw 105 species and 11 Life Birds in western Montana.  It was hard to pick just four of the Best!

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

(*) A “Life Bird” is a species you see for the first time in your life.

9 responses so far

Jul 06 2016

Variations On A Warbler Theme

Published by under Songbirds,Travel

Connecticut, Mourning and MacGillivray's warblers (illustration by Louis Aggasiz Fuertes in National Geographic, public domain from Wikimedia Commons)

Connecticut, Mourning and MacGillivray’s Warblers (illustration by Louis Aggasiz Fuertes, public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

When Louis Aggasiz Fuertes drew these birds they were all the same genus, Oporornis.  This made sense because Connecticut, mourning and MacGillivray’s warblers are similar in appearance and habits.  All three breed in northern forests where they are shy, secretive skulkers, nesting and feeding on the ground.

The Connecticut warbler (at top) is the hardest to find, so hard that his nest wasn’t discovered for 70 years after the species was described.  His breeding grounds in the bogs and moist forests of Minnesota, Wisconsin, upper Michigan and central Canada are protected by mosquitoes!   Birds of North America says, “Its secretive behavior and preference for breeding habitat in remote areas with abundant insect life has made it very difficult to study.”  No kidding!

The mourning warbler (middle) has a wider distribution.  He breeds in second growth forests from British Columbia to Newfoundland and into the northern tier of Pennsylvania.  He’s one of the few warblers that benefits from human disturbance, preferring to nest in clearcuts 1 to 10 years old.  I usually see him during spring migration at Magee Marsh, Ohio.

MacGillivray’s Warbler (bottom) prefers second growth too, but he breeds at low to moderate elevations in the Rockies and Sierras.  I saw my first MacGillivray’s warbler (Life Bird!) in Glacier National Park in burned areas that are the dry mountain equivalent of a clearcut.

For many years the Oporornis genus calmly hummed along until two discoveries upset the apple cart.

Everyone thought these species never met on their breeding grounds … and they don’t … except for one spot in the Peace region of British Columbia near Dawson Creek where in 2009 Irwin et al. discovered that mourning and MacGillivray’s warblers hybridize.

Then in 2010 DNA evidence split the Oporornis genus.  Now the Connecticut warbler stands alone, though many websites and field guides have not caught up.

  • Old: Oporornis = [Connecticut, mourning, MacGillivray’s and Kentucky warblers].  Geothlypis = [common yellowthroat]
  • New: Oporornis = [Connecticut].  Geothlypis = [common yellowthroat, mourning, MacGillivray’s and Kentucky warblers]

In appearance and ancestry, these birds are variations on a warbler theme.

 

(illustration by Louis Aggasiz Fuertes in National Geographic, public domain from Wikimedia Commons)

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Jul 05 2016

Hope’s in Charge For Now

Hope and Terzo band colors showing, 4 July 2016(photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

Hope and Terzo with band colors showing, 4 July 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

A lot has happened at the Cathedral of Learning peregrine nest in the past two weeks.

  • On June 21 a new female peregrine, Magnum, appeared on the falconcam. She came to the nest several times through June 23 and bowed with Terzo, the resident male. Her presence meant that the previous female, Hope, was gone.
  • At midday June 24 Hope returned to the nest and has been bowing with Terzo ever since.
  • On June 27 this year’s fledgling, C1, visited the nest and made loud begging sounds.
  • On July 2, Chad Steele photographed Magnum at her own nest site, the Neville Island I-79 Bridge.

During these changes I was off the grid and couldn’t answer your questions.  Here are some long awaited answers.
.
Did anyone see Hope and Magnum fighting?

No. We never saw anything, stuck on the ground with our poor field of view.  My guess is that Hope and Magnum chased each other without making physical contact.

I see two peregrines at the nest. Please tell me if it’s Hope and Magnum and if they are fighting.

Magnum is gone for now.  However, you can tell the difference between courtship and fighting by observing the birds’ postures and actions:

Courtship: 2 peregrines standing apart from each other and bowing low = male+female strengthening pair bond.

Fight: 2 peregrines with talons locked (feet are connected), trying to peck at each others’ throats, wings open, leaning backwards to avoid each others’ beaks = 2 birds of the same sex fighting.  Here’s a slideshow of a fight in 2007 between two males at the Cathedral of Learning.

Why are the females competing now outside the nesting season? Are they competing for Terzo?

They’re not competing for Terzo at all.  They’re competing for the Cathedral of Learning, a prime nest site worth winning at any time of year. It’s better than a bridge.

Does Terzo’s preference determine which female wins?  Since Hope was there first, will Terzo leave if he prefers Magnum?

No. Unlike humans who bond with their mates and then find a place to live, peregrines bond to the nest site and then mate with whoever is there.  If another female wins the site — no matter who it is — Terzo will mate with that female. He will not leave the site unless a new male ousts him.

Will Hope keep the Cathedral of Learning site?

We don’t know.  We can tell that Hope is a weak owner because other females have made it to the nest three times in April & June.  A strong owner would never let other females get into the nest.  It never happened during Dorothy’s reign.

Has anyone seen Magnum recently?

Yes. On July 2 Chad Steele, peregrine monitor from Canton, Ohio, photographed Magnum at her home nest site, the Neville Island I-79 Bridge.  His photos confirm her identity.

Magnum at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 2 Jul 2016 (photo by Chad Steele)

Magnum at the Neville Island I-79 Bridge, 2 Jul 2016 (photo by Chad Steele)

.
How is this year’s fledgling, C1?

C1 is so mobile that it’s hard to keep track of her.  Anne Marie Bosnyak saw her this morning, July 5, on St. Paul’s steeple.  We also know she visited the nest on June 27, whining loudly. Is she as loud as her mother? Perhaps.

C1 visits the nest, 27 June 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

C1 visits the nest, 27 June 2016 (photo from the National Aviary falconcam at Univ of Pittsburgh)

 

p.s. As you watch the falconcam, here are band colors and numbers to look for:
Hope: black/green 69/Z + Green on right leg
Terzo: black/red N/29 + Silver on right leg
Magnum: black/red 62/H + Purple on right leg
C1 (juvenile, brown and cream-colored plumage): black/green 06/BR + Silver on right leg

(nest photos from the National Aviary falconcams at Univ. of Pittsburgh. photo of Magnum in flight by Chad Steele)

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Jul 04 2016

On July 4: Advocate for Eagles

Published by under Birds of Prey

Bald eagle (photo by Chuck Tague)

Bald eagle (photo by Chuck Tague)

I was “off the grid” in Montana when the American Bird Conservancy sent an important message about a proposed eagle management plan that would weaken protection for eagles. (!)  Now there’s only one day left — July 4 — to make your voice heard.

Here’s the message and the link for you to comment.

THE LAST DAY TO COMMENT IS JULY 5!

From the American Bird Conservancy, info@abcbirds.org:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is taking public comment until July 5 on an eagle-management plan that could weaken protections for eagles, including the issuing of 30-year permits to wind energy and other companies that allow the “take” (or harm) of thousands of eagles. Please help us strengthen the rule by submitting a comment today.

Under the proposed plan—also called the Eagle Take Rule—industry would not be required to have mortality data collected by independent, third-party experts; share mortality data with the public; or take critical factors like proper siting of wind turbines into consideration. We have sent our own, extensive comment letter to FWS and urge you to raise your voice as well. (Please see our press release for additional information.)

To endorse the following letter, which will be submitted as an official comment to elected officials, please fill out the form at this link. Thank you!

American Bird Conservancy | P.O. Box 249 | The Plains, VA 20198 | 888-247-3624

Note: When I submitted my comment I got an automated reply from my Congressman saying my message has to include my home address. Oops! I didn’t type my address inside the message. Make sure you do that.

 

(photo of bald eagle by Chuck Tague)

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